Globespan's missing millions - part three
Meet Mr Elias Elia. He's the chief executive of E-Clear, amongst other roles. One of those other roles is fascinating - of which, more later.
But let's start with E-Clear. That's the company, based in Mayfair, London, which handles credit card transactions for airlines, and which is uncomfortably close to the demise of Globespan and flyGlobespan airline.
To recap - we've been told by its administrator that Globespan was owed around £30m (and I'm told more) by E-Clear. This was money that had been paid for tickets, but which had not been passed on to the airline.
We also know that the administrators think a very large chunk of that, at least half, was money paid for tickets on flights that had already landed. There seemed no clear reason why that money continued to be withheld, after it ceased to carry the risk of being reclaimed.
That's what got Finance Secretary John Swinney steamed up with indignation at E-Clear's role, while being interviewed on Radio Scotland earlier today.
And at last, E-Clear has started doing some responding. It released a statement this afternoon, in which Mr Elia sympathises with those affected by Globespan's collapse. Here it is in full:
"London, 18 December 2009 - The directors of E-Clear wish to express the company's deepest sympathy for the customers and staff of Flyglobespan affected by the airline's move into administration.
Particularly at this time of year it is a distressing situation for all involved.
"E-Clear is committed to working closely with the administrators of The Globespan Group to clarify and address the various complexities around the airline's financial position, so that matters may be resolved as quickly as possible.
"E-Clear's chief executive officer Elias Elia says: 'As one of the world's leading payment card processing companies, we have many years'
experience in the airline industry and we will bring this expertise to bear in pursuit of an equable solution that reflects the interests of all parties'."
And that's all. Obviously, it leaves some questions hanging in the air.
E-Clear and administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers are discussing today what was owed. The credit card transactions company wants to stress that the administrator has not blamed the airline's collapse on a lack of cash flow.
What joint administrator Bruce Cartwright did say yesterday was that the airline had sustained a big loss two years ago, and it needed an injection of capital. But in a media briefing, he went on to leave little doubt that the large amount of money owed was the key issue he had yet to understand.
It seems there had been a disagreement between Globespan's (former) management and E-Clear about how much money was owed. Some cash continued to flow to Globespan, but its offer of appointing an independent auditor to adjudicate the dispute was, I'm told, not accepted by E-Clear.
It is also being claimed by E-Clear's PR team that a finance company withholding money from credit card transactions is entitled to continue doing so even AFTER the flight has landed - up to six months later, because there are some circumstances in which an insurance claim can still be made on that ticket.
"In E-Clear's position, it covers its exposure to future risk on flights that may have been cancelled in the past. It's not possible to quantify what claims may come in, so it's necessary to be prudent."
Globespan could no longer get insurance industry cover from July last year - before the collapse of Zoom and XL. So E-Clear's response after that was to insure itself by withholding money for much longer.
But here we get to the really interesting bit. Earlier this week, Globespan's chief executive, founder and chief shareholder, Tom Dalrymple, issued a couple of statements saying the airline management continued to be in discussion with a company called Halcyon Investments, about an injection of capital.
Halcyon had been in discussions with flyGlobespan going back at least as far as September, which was around the point when others who were interested in investing in the airline pulled out.
What do we know about Halcyon Investments? Not much, except that it was registered as a trust in Jersey during August of last year.
But now that E-Clear has started communicating, we know more about it. It's a group of high net-worth individuals, and as a trust, it does not have directors. One of those investors is informally described as "the lead representative", and is one and the same Elias Elia.
So he was chief executive of E-Clear while it was in dispute with flyGlobespan over a very large amount of money - enough, it could be argued, to explain the airline's financial collapse this week.
At the same time, Halcyon Investment, led by Mr Elia, was negotiating with Globespan management to take over the company, or at least to take a large stake in it.
Could there, perhaps, be a conflict of interest?
The answer: "There were different investors in Halcyon, so any exposure to risk that E-Clear had or has would not have been affected by Halcyon's attempt to secure a future for flyGlobespan.
"E-Clear and Halcyon Investments are two entirely separate entities.
The two companies operated independently".
Saturday 19 December, 11am
Allbury Travel Group has ceased trading this morning, according to the Civil Aviation Authority. Based in Hertfordshire, it included the brands Libra Holidays, Argo Holidays and JetLife, and flew out of English airports to Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.
More than 100 holiday-makers have been left stranded, and arrangements are being made to bring them home, while there were 4000 forward bookings.
Credit card transactions for buying Allbury Travel Group holidays were carried out by E-Clear.
Allbury Travel Group is a subsidiary of Allbury Ltd, a Virgin Islands company in which the controlling interest is reported to be a Mr Elias Elia.
I've tried to find out more from Mr Elia, but less than 24 hours after taking on a public relations agency to deal with unwelcome E-Clear publicity, the two have parted company. And he's not answering calls.